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Fun Down Below

The whole point of having multiple levels to your home would be to have some way of banishing your kids to a lower level—an isolation chamber for just a few moments of each day.
Right? Wrong.
In the case of this unique underground lair from designer Valerie Esiso of Restyled by Valerie), it’s all about big and little playing together.
“It was pure joy once we were done, for all parties involved,” she said, “because they got a much more comfortable and thoughtfully laid out basement that really addressed all their needs as a young, active family.”
The individual elements of this basement project alone would be enough to marvel at (a home gym! A graffiti wall! A stage!) but (614) Home wanted to give you the down-low (get, it? A basement joke!) on the entire space. Valerie turned its exposed brick and acid-washed concrete into a mixed-used space that would make most local businesses blush. She’ll tell you about how they made the project work, what hiccups they encountered along the way, and what you need to know when considering an underground project of your own:

Balancing Space:
Because the kids were so young, it was important to maintain an open floor plan so they could have enough open space to run around, and so the parents could easily keep an eye on them. The challenge however, was in making sure the layout of all these multiple functional areas flowed and made sense, so it felt cohesive. In this case, we needed the adult and kids’ spaces to operate as parts of the same larger space.

Hang-ups & Hiccups:
We did encounter a hiccup that caused us to change some of our design plans in the early stages of the project—it was in the workout room. Our plan was to section that part off without compromising on the clean-lined, open-concept look we were going for; and I had planned on doing this with tempered glass panels on a sliding track that could be opened and closed as needed. As planning progressed, we encountered problems with trying to find someone locally that was comfortable enough to tackle the install of the proprietary sliding tracks the glass company recommended, and because they didn’t have a regional distributor, we were being hit with a substantial freight charge that made the option less viable. As a result, I had to come up with a plan B, which was the frosted acrylic panels we ended up using. These worked out great because they not only have a higher pressure rating—which translated to more kid-proof in this case—but they also cost a fraction of what the previous material did. And my carpenter was able to install them without any issue.

Fun + Function :
They are usually these large, untapped spaces that so much function can be squeezed into, if done properly. And people are usually more willing to take design risks in their basements as compared to the main living areas of their houses, which is always fun for me as a designer. For instance, the graffiti wall in this project—which is a huge part of the overall design aesthetic—was not a difficult sell to the clients, and I imagine that is because it was going in the basement. I am not sure I would have been as successful talking them into installing that if it were going in their living room [laughs].

The pros/cons of being “open”:
[They] can be a bit intimidating, but I find that with a clearly defined list of functions outlining the main uses for the space and a vision of how you would like it to look—the “feeling”—designing an open concept space is no different than an enclosed space.

Unexpected Inspiration:
It’s funny, when I first met with the clients and started discussing inspiration for the project, we kept referring to Chipotle (the restaurant) because they used to have the same exposed brick walls and that urban vibe in their stores. So, I guess I was somewhat inspired by my idea of what a downtown New York Chipotle restaurant would look like! [laughs] Some projects do require active outside research for inspiration and ideas, but not this one. This one was all me. Once I saw the exposed brick walls and listened to their preference for a modern space, the design idea came to me.

What to know:
If you are thinking of doing your basement, the first thing you should do is list all the things you want to be able to get done in the space once completed. This is what I refer to as your functions lists, and it should be comprehensive, but also realistic. So if need be, narrow it down to what’s essential and see if you can piggyback others.

The next thing to consider is the layout. You should always let your functional needs guide the layout of your space. You do this by determining the most efficient placement for each function, keeping in mind the limitations of the space (ductwork, low ceiling height, location of support pillars, etc); the pre-existing design elements (built-in-shelves, fireplace, the upstairs sofa you are using, etc); the space requirement for each function (the clearance needed for your workout barre or basketball arcade); and the overall flow of the space. You want to make sure that the placement of each function is not only aesthetically appealing, but that it makes sense, too.

The final point to consider is the overall look you would like to see in the space. To tackle this point, I suggest you focus on trying to convey a feeling in the space so that each design element you incorporate (paint color, style of furniture, accessories) contributes towards the overall feeling you are trying to convey in the space. Be careful not to be too literal with the elements you incorporate though, hence my suggestion to focus on conveying a feeling, as opposed to conveying a specific style or aesthetic. For this project, I was going for a modern urban feeling because it worked well with the open concept plan and the pre-existing exposed brick walls and concrete floors.

Where to shop:
The materials we used here were sourced from a variety of places, including online retailers like Overstock (dining chairs), Etsy (art prints), and local suppliers like Frame Warehouse (large framed pieces).

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